John Roberts Is Playing 10 Moves Ahead

Even his court's liberal victories seed long-term defeats

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 28, 2013 7:40 AM CDT

(Newser) – To a casual observer, the Supreme Court probably looked fairly cautious this term—but that's because John Roberts is playing the long game, Adam Liptak at the New York Times observes. Time and again, the chief justice has convinced the court's liberals to sign onto compromises that hold the seeds to eventual conservative victories. Roberts' opinion this week eviscerating the Voting Rights Act, for instance, drew heavily from a 2009 opinion allowing the same act to stand—which he had gotten eight justices to sign on to.

Roberts was clearly setting up another such shot in this week's affirmative action decision. He did the same in his ObamaCare ruling (click here for our earlier story on how). Roberts' approach stands in contrast to Antonin Scalia's; in their respective DOMA dissents, Scalia complained that the decision doomed single-state gay marriage bans, while Roberts said that was an issue for another day. "If you want to influence future cases, you point out the limited nature of today's holdings," one law professor says. "If you want to gain rhetorical points today, you exaggerate the effects."

Chief Justice John G. Roberts. At 58, he seemingly has a long time to shape his court.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts. At 58, he seemingly has a long time to shape his court.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
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There is a pattern here. The price of victory today for liberals in the Roberts court can be pain tomorrow. - Adam Liptak

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